Tag Archives: Research Secrets

An interview with…NJ Crosskey

In my Research Secrets column in the national writing magazine, Writers’ Forum, this month I interview NJ Crosskey about her ‘decidedly dodgy’ research for her debut novel, Poster Boy.

Research Secrets - N J Crosskey photo2

Poster Boy is about Rosa who is at her brother’s funeral with a bomb strapped to her chest. The story unfolds as a flashback showing Rosa growing up with her brother Jimmy and the events that led up to his death and ultimately turning him into a reluctant hero. This novel demonstrates how easy it is to manipulate and spin opinion using social media and fake news and how Rosa is able to see through the lies and the fear they are purposely creating.

NJ Crosskey explained to write this book she needed to know about making bombs, planting explosives, security details for government ministers, clandestine communications and specific locations. She told me:

“Research is the foundation that makes a story like Poster Boy credible. But just like the foundations to a building, it should be largely unseen. Whilst it may appear to the reader that the hours I spent online researching the construction and effects of suicide vests resulted in only a single line:

‘I’ve got the semtex and shrapnel to contend with.’

The truth is that knowledge drove the entire scene. Knowing the range, weight, and aesthetics of the device is what made the whole image plausible.” NJ Crosskey

She used Google street view to find perfect locations which she knew little about and was able to talk to experts by asking around amongst friends and on online writing forums. Her advice to other writers is to think outside the box when it comes to researching your novel. Facts are important, of course, but real human experiences and opinions are equally vital for ensuring your story comes across as authentic – no matter how fantastical your plot!

“There are so many tools these days for writers seeking information, we really are spoilt! As well as all the obvious places to find information (Google searches, newspapers and journals, text books etc), there are a whole host of other resources. You can find TED Talks by experts on almost any subject online, Ancestry.com is invaluable for those writing historical fiction, and sites such as Quora allow you to ask questions that can be answered by experts all over the world.” NJ Crosskey

Poster Boy_High res (1)

Poster Boy was published April 1st 2019 by Legend Press.

You can find out more by NJ Crosskey by following her on Twitter @NJCrosskey, or visiting her blog: https://njcrosskey.wordpress.com/

An interview with… Stephen Potts

In Dec 2008, I interviewed award-winning screenwriter and novelist, Stephen Potts, about the research he did for his books and screenplay adaptations.

Pullman and Potts

(c) Stephen Potts

In 2007, he was commissioned to adapt Philip Pullman’s 1992 novel of doomed teenage romance, The Butterfly Tattoo, as a feature film. It was directed by Phil Hawkins. The film toured festivals in 2008, winning several awards (including Best Adaptation at the New York Independent Film Festival), and reaching 75 on IMDb’s moviemeter, before a US/UK cinema. The DVD was released in 2009.

BT DVD

Stephen told me:

“I’m aware I write visually (hence my interest in screenwriting). Unless I see a scene in my head I can’t write it.” Stephen Potts

He does not have a set method for research as he believes it should be appropriate to the task. It was interesting to discover that adapting The Butterfly Tattoo didn’t require visits to Oxford, where it’s set, as he had lived there for eight years. But it did require him to read and re-read the book, every interview Pullman had given where it was discussed, and every review of the book he could find.

Stephen explained:

“The questions here, in adaptation, were different: what was Pullman trying to achieve? What was the essence of the story? What are the inessential features, which could be changed to fit the different form of a feature film?” Stephen Potts

Stephen emphasised how the temptation, when you’ve invested time, money and effort in your research, and you’ve unearthed interesting nuggets, is to crowbar it all in to what you’re writing. He revealed he had to tell himself repeatedly that he was not writing history, but a story. If a piece of information served a story purpose, and was interesting to boot, all well and good: but he was adamant that the story must never serve as a showcase for More Interesting Facts.

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” William Faulkner

Stephen Potts has been nominated twice for the Carnegie Medal (Hunting Gumnor, 2000; Tommy Trouble, 2001) and short-listed for the inaugural Branford-Boase Award (Hunting Gumnor, 2000) and Askews Prize (Compass Murphy, 2002).

You can read the full interview in the December 2008 #87 issue of Writers Forum. You can find out more about Stephen Potts and his books on his website.

An interview with… Carole Matthews

My Research Secrets column was launched in the national writing magazine, Writers’ Forum, in October 2008. It has been running for just over ten years. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of my column I wanted to tell you about my very first interview that launched Research Secrets.

The very first interview was with Carole Matthews who writes romantic comedy.

 

Carole Matthews’ favourite research tools in 2008 were:

  • The Little Book of Baby Names – it’s where most of her character ‘s names come from.
  • IMDB –Internet Movie Database imdb.com – which is useful for all movie related questions.
  • Amazon – to keep up with what’s coming out.

Her research tip was to go and do what you’re writing about if you can.  She had set one of her books in a library, so she did some volunteer work in her local library for a few days. She also advises if you splash out to visit somewhere take masses of photos, notes, video.  Work on the premise that you’re never likely to go back.

I always visit the area I am writing about. I have a file drawer for every area we’ve ever visited – complete with local info, hundreds of photographs (or a CD these days) and probably a video too.

For writers who want to write chick-lit, she suggested you organise a girl’s night with your best mates once a month.  Drink lots of wine.  Tell lots of stories and try not to drink so much wine that you forget all the stories in the morning.

happiness for beginners

Carole Matthew’s new book, Happiness for Beginners, is released in February 2019. To find out more about Carole Matthews and her books take a look at: www.carolematthews.com

Or follow her on Twitter at: @carolematthews